Private Project

Born into Exile

Our VR film ‘Born into Exile’ tells the harrowing yet hopeful story of two pregnant Syrian refugee women in the week leading up to the births of their babies.

  • Charlotte Windle Mikkelborg
    Building 173, The Forgotten War
  • Charlotte Windle Mikkelborg
    Building 173, Far from Fear, The Hidden War on Women
  • Charlotte Windle Mikkelborg
    Building 173, The Human Spider, Made in China, Far from Fear, The Hidden War on Women
  • Ignacio Ferrando Margeli
    VR cinematographer
    Growing a World Wonder
  • Jeffrey Anderson
    Binaural Sound Design
    Evolution of Verse, Millions March, Clouds over Sidra, Walking New York, U2: Song for Someone
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short, Web / New Media
  • Runtime:
    8 minutes 39 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 12, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    50,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
    Arabic, English
  • Shooting Format:
    4K on GoPro Hero rig
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Women Deliver Conference
    May 18, 2016
    Non public screening
  • World Humanitarian Conference
    May 23, 2016
    Non public screening to conference delegates
  • US Houses of Congress
    Washington D.C.
    United States
    June 23, 2016
    Non public screening to congress
  • UN General Assembly Summit on Refugees
    New York
    United States
    September 12, 2016
    Non public screening at UNGA
  • FIVARS - Festival of Virtual and Augmented Reality
    September 11, 2016
    Canadian premiere
Director Biography - Charlotte Windle Mikkelborg

Lauded by Vice as one of the “female filmmakers revolutionizing how we see the world”, Charlotte Mikkelborg is a British director - who first gained recognition as a BBC foreign correspondent - and has more recently become known for her work directing gripping character-driven non fiction film and virtual reality. Charlotte’s work packs an emotional punch with the aim of driving social change. Her 2016 virtual reality short Born into Exile - the harrowing yet hopeful story of two pregnant Syrian refugees – screened in the US Houses of Congress and at the first UN Special Summit on Refugees, leading to the commitment of funds to helping alleviate the plight of Syrian refuges. While a previous film, The Forgotten War (2007) – was pivotal in persuading the UN Security Council to formally recognize the use of rape as an ethnic cleansing tool in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the country's long running, bloody civil war.
Previously BBC China Correspondent, Charlotte has been working under the umbrella of her production company Picture This Productions since 2009. Turning ideas into powerful films that help change the world, Picture This Productions has made 40+ short docs, animations and interactive projects of global social relevance for clients including the United Nations and several of the world’s leading NGOs, helping them inform and influence governments and key decision makers. Several of these films have been re-versioned for broadcast including for Channel Four’s Foreign film Fund. Charlotte has also directed/produced a handful of feature length films, which have garnered awards including the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW and the Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival. Born into Exile is Charlotte’s first 360 film.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Worldwide, 500 women die daily in crisis situations due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. But that figure is just a number…unless you meet the women at risk of becoming a part of those statistics. I first met Tahany Dawoud Al Ghazawi and her 4 spirited daughters in their corrugated iron hut in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, in April 2016. I couldn’t see Tahany’s face when we first met as she wears the veil but, through her voice and her words, I could feel her warmness, her wisdom and her bravery. From Darra in Syria, 29 year old Tahany has already experienced more than most of us would wish to experience in our lifetimes. Tahany and her family fled Syria three years ago when the apartment where they were living was bombed, leaving two of her children seriously injured. They left everything behind and fled for safety over the border into Jordan, where they ended up in Zaatari refugee camp (home to 80,000 refugees). 5 million have left Syria since the beginning of the conflict. 39 weeks pregnant with her fifth child when I met her, Tahany was nervous about the upcoming birth, concerned that as she was anemic and there was no blood bank in the camp, her and her baby would be at risk.

The day after meeting Tahany, I was introduced to 17-year-old Victoria. Married at 16 and pregnant with her first child, Victoria was, like many girls in the camp, a child bride. Early marriage and adolescent pregnancy have become increasingly common in the camps where, 6 years into the Syrian crisis, financial difficulties have led more families to marry off their daughters before they reach 18 and sometimes as young as 12. Victoria was living with her husband and new parents in law. Victoria was clearly bewildered and afraid about giving birth. She wanted her own mother with her but it wasn’t possible as her parents and siblings were in another camp and permissions to leave complex to obtain. Tahany and Victoria’s stories were intimately intertwined in my mind as Tahany had made it very clear to me that, despite the family’s circumstances, her daughters will complete their education and go on to university. Meanwhile, she’s enrolled them in a martial arts class within the camp.

This film and VR experience was commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund, who work hard in fragile situations around the world, including in Zaatari refugee camp, to ensure safe births. In Zaatari refugee camp alone, their facility has ensured the safe delivery of over 5000 babies.
An increasing number of UN agencies, NGOs and other organizations working for global social good are seeing virtual reality as a powerful empathy machine.

As a filmmaker, I am particularly interested in the question of whether and to what extent VR heightens empathy. Though the idea of VR as the ultimate empathy tool has its critics, Prof. Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, who’s been researching this subject for several years, has been able to verify that “VR does cause more behavior change, more engagement and more influence than traditional media." They’ve proven, for example, that "becoming someone else in virtual reality and experiencing their trauma first hand causes a reduction in prejudice” and a higher degree of empathy and understanding.